A 5-year-old boy, reported missing Wednesday, was found dead early Thursday close to his mother’s home east of Lake Nona.
Aaron Peña was autistic and had last been seen about noon Wednesday, Orange County sheriff’s deputies said on Facebook.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement issued a “missing child” alert about 5:15 p.m. Wednesday. The FDLE message said the boy was last seen wearing a brown shirt with the image of a cartoon bear holding a boombox and dinosaur-print pajama bottoms.
The boy’s mother, Melissa Stanton, said her son was fascinated by water, according to a report by WFTV-Channel 9.
The mother also told WKMG-Channel 6 she was working at home when she realized she didn’t hear him.
“I wasn’t hearing any type of laughing sounds or him singing over and over — like, repetitive songs — he does that, or he’ll usually create a scenario where he’ll talk to himself about the birds and colors and songs that he watches on YouTube,” she said.
She told the TV stations she went downstairs, saw the backdoor cracked open and ran out looking for him.
The child’s death was announced Thursday morning by the Orange County Sheriff’s Office in a tweet.
The agency previously reposted the FDLE missing child notice on its Facebook page, noting Aaron was autistic and non-verbal.
The boy resided on Savannah Landing Circle near Moss Park Road and State Road 417, southeast of Lake Nona.
While deputies combed the area, some neighbors wanted to look for the boy, too. Deputies discouraged that.
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“Thank you for coming out and for showing such concern for the community and this missing child. We have dozens of people out searching right now and investigators are just trying to make sure the search scene is properly preserved,” the agency said on its Facebook page. “We have received offers from people wanting to help in the search for Aaron Peña. At this time, our teams have the necessary resources in the search area. Here’s what you can do to help: If you live in the vicinity of Savannah Landing Circle or Moss Park Road and SR 417, please check your doorbell cameras or any other video you may have going back to noon on Wednesday. If you see anyone that looks like Aaron, call…”
The agency said its search used “all available resources,” including the department helicopter, drones and canine units.
A gofundme account established “in honor of the tragic loss” on Thanksgiving had raised more than $18,000 today, exceeding its $15,000 goal before noon.
“Please help us come together as a community to help this mom give her child a proper burial,” account organizer Janet Delarosa wrote in the fund summary. “The last thing she should worry about is financing his memorial. All funds will be handed to her directly.”
Delarosa did not respond to a message seeking to verify the authenticity of the fund and neither did the boy’s mother.
Leigh Lehman, a spokesperson for gofundme.com, a crowd-funding site, said the fundraiser has been verified and “our trust & safety team will work with the fundraiser organizer to help ensure funds reach the family.”